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Case studies: The psychology of penetrating their mind

Ramit Sethi

This week we’ve been focusing on the psychology of hustling, or how to unconventionally achieve disproportionate results.

You’ve read:

Today, 3 case studies of people who’ve taken my psychological methods and implemented them — and one who failed.

* * *

3 patterns about this week’s progress

In the 200+ comments where you listed how you’d implemented this week’s challenge of meeting 3 people before Wednesday, I noticed some interesting patterns:

1. People want to help you.Most people were SHOCKED at how responsive people are when you email them with a genuine question. People WANT to help. They WANT to meet you. They WANT to give advice. But nobody asks.
2. It’s easy to do nothing. Some people had emails sitting in their Drafts folder for YEARS. This week, they finally sent them — and got responses within 5 minutes! What held them back? (Hint: It wasn’t just “motivation.”) Where else can you identify this in your life?
3. Advanced tactics for later. Sophisticated readers will notice after a while that it’s not just about being able to meet people…it soon becomes about meeting the right people. That’s a topic for another time.

Overall you did an excellent job reaching out.

But by far the most interesting thing I noticed was that some people were still making the mistake of focusing on THEMSELVES. ‘Can *I* take him out to lunch? What should *I* ask him? *I* think….*I* want….”

One of the advanced techniques I teach to my Earn1k students is how to get in your customers’ heads — how to focus on them — and it’s applicable not just in business, but in your personal life too.

It sounds obvious, but it’s HARD.

It means deeply understanding people’s hopes, fears, and dreams before you pitch them on something.

This isn’t just about making money. It could be about helping your boyfriend lose weight, or your wife manage her money better, or having your partner and you both resolve to quit your jobs and travel the world.

For example, if you’re trying to get a raise, what would make your boss instantly say yes?

If you want to show your boyfriend that he, too, can quit his job and travel the world for 6 months, what would get him to take action?

If you’re trying to land a $30,000 deal that your competitors are only charging $2,000 for, how do you make yourself irresistible?

If you’re trying to sell services to a 24-year-old woman vs. a 42-year-old woman, how would your pitch differ?

Using psychology to ethically influence other people is not about nifty persuasion tricks and hacks. Ethical persuasion is first and foremost about deeply understanding your audience.

I know, I know. That’s not as sexy as “81 Mindhacks That Persuade Girls to Drop Their Panties!!!” But understanding others — when done properly — works better than you would believe.

Case study: Meeting a busy person using Mental Scenario Planning

For example, reader bp wrote about her experience in meeting an extremely busy professor — with winning results:

Week 2 results:

I decided to call one professor I absolutely admire about career advice. Unfortunately, he’s quite unapproachable (excentric genius kind of person). Considering I have phone anxiety and generally don’t talk much to people at college, I started with a simple test.

I typed up a list with all the phone numbers of ALL of the professors I’ve ever had a class with, and some stuff I could talk to them about (well, a question per professor, so the call wouldn’t be strange.)

Getting past the secretary:

“Hi, this is a student of ..“ – forget it, the professor is almost always occupied.

”Hi, I’m calling about the professors’ new book.“ – sometimes works.

“Hi, this is (my name) from (the company I occasionally work for), I’m calling about his lecture on (etc, etc).“ – works awesomely.

Talking with the prof:
“Hi, I’m a student, calling about your lecture in -“ – asked me to go to office hours for such things. Didn’t care.
“Hi, I’m a student working on a project about (lecture topic). I’m attending your lecture, but there’s one or two questions -“
– Professor is interested 8/10 times and if prompted, agrees to meet me for a coffee. Of course, then it takes a few hours to think up a project…

In the end, I have coffee dates with several profs for the next week – including today. Today I met the professor I originally targeted and we talked about my project (which I had spend the entire day on – thinking it up, making some daring assumptions to have preliminary results – he loved one of the ideas), about our love for that topic (didn’t need to fake that one), recent developments (Did you know – ? I did, but it’s nice to hear that students read industry blog abc

Results: I’m going to grad school with a horrid GPA – to one of the most profilic and brilliant people in my field. I’m officially working on a project I faked – and it is actually quite interesting. Also, I’m totally over my phone anxiety.

Life officially rocks.

What bp is doing here is quite sophisticated. She is mentally crafting a “scenario plan” of how the person will respond if she says A, B, and C. This is extraordinarily difficult. Try for yourself: Visualize the person you are trying to meet, and come up with 3-5 different pitches. How would they respond? You’ll notice that it is actually physiologically taxing to understand the world from another person’s perspective.

But the best people can do it — and they achieve disproportionate results.

BP is the winner of this week’s Taking Action award, and she gets $250 (for taking others out to coffee) or 15 minutes on the phone with me.

Case study: Overcoming fear

Here’s another example from reader Jonah, who writes about how he overcame his fear of reaching out to new people:


On tuesday I wrote down 5 people that I found fascinating and wanted to meet. One of them is a local entrepreneur who have done some really amazing things.

Now I’ve noticed that giving first is a good start so I decided to test something, the “just a heads up” following an engaging question about his/her business/philosophy. Because I’m quite web savvy it comes naturally to suggest improvements and provide solutions to technical problems. People are often very grateful because they might often love the web but hate the tech.

This time I simply pointed out some bugs in a newly released project of his and followed up with some other stuff. After a few emails he asks if I want to grab a lunch on friday? Sure! Then he emails me today that it’s on him as well!

One thing I learned is that I often make up worst case-scenarios in my head when waiting for a reply when in fact this is just another negative script. I’m not sure what the best way would be to get rid of this but I’ll try to break it down (why am I often expecting the worst?). I’m thinking it’s often a defense mechanism so that while I’m waiting i’m trying to create a rescue plan _just in case_. This is nuts.

Jonah did two things:

1. Offered value by pointing out bugs and offering ways to help FIRST
2. Critically examined his own fears of making up “worst-case scenarios” in his head. “What if they say this? What if they say that?” While most people try to attack the ATTITUDE, you can short-circuit the entire premise by simply attacking the behavior. Execute a behavior and often — not always, but often — the attitudes will follow.

Case study: Using psychology to earn tens of thousands of dollars

One of my students, David N., recorded a video talking about a psychological technique that he learned from my Earn1k course on earning more money:

(Skip to 0:18 to for the main meat.)

Video notes:

  • Using my techniques, he switched from a 9-5 job to freelancing. Despite only working 7 months last year, he made 15% more than his old job. And he traveled the world in the remaining 5 months.
  • Using my Earn1k DIFT Technique, he ANTICIPATED what his clients would need. This is so different than waiting for someone to tell you what to do. How different? This alone was worth tens of thousands of dollars to him last year alone

BONUS case study: Confidence and conversational skills

A few months ago, I spoke to one of my students, Rachel K., on a recorded call. She wanted help with her freelance-photography idea.

And she was failing! In fact, on the call I yelled at her and told her to stop being creepy and to start understanding the people she was talking to.

Here’s the call. It’s pretty funny. Listen here:

(Can’t see the audio player? Click here for the file.)

Read the transcript here:

Rachel-Marie: So I was wondering if you can talk a little bit about confidence, and so probably in a little bit broader category, because if you asked me something I’m really certain about, like what’s your favorite brand of ice cream, I can tell you I love Ben and Jerry’s and you wouldn’t believe their fish food, it’s got this really cool chocolate-flavored fish-shaped yummy things in it. But when I get to talking freelancing and working on the side, I don’t have that same level of confidence, I don’t like to go up to people and just say, you know: Hey, I’m Rachel, I’m into photography and I can take some really great pictures for you.

Ramit Sethi: Got it. Well, Rachel, I wish I could help you but I have a confidence problem myself, so…

Rachel-Marie: No way!

Ramit Sethi: [Laughs] I’m just kidding. Alright so what happens when you go up to someone, tell me what happens?

Rachel-Marie: I think for me it’s something that’s probably more personal, and it’s something I care about, not just as…

Ramit Sethi: Just tell me the behavior, what happens when you go up to someone. What do you do?

Rachel-Marie: Smile, say: Hi, how’s it going?

Ramit Sethi: Go on.

Rachel-Marie: Wait for them to respond, kind of strike up a little bit of a…

Ramit Sethi: Hold, on. Let’s do a little role playing.

Rachel-Marie: Okay.

Ramit Sethi: First of all, don’t try to get too flirty because we have a lot of people listening on the line here, okay, and I’m recording this too. So try to keep your distance.

Rachel-Marie: So, Ramit, what’s your cell phone number?

Ramit Sethi: Right, right. So we are at a conference, and I’m just standing there, you come up to me, so go ahead.

Rachel-Marie: Hey, I’m Rachel, were you…

Ramit Sethi: Hey, I’m, Ramit.

Rachel-Marie: Hey, nice to meet you, Ramit, where are you from?

Ramit Sethi: I’m from the Bay area, what about you?

Rachel-Marie: I’m from Minnesota, what do you like to do for fun?

Ramit Sethi: Well, you know, I guess – the reason I’m here, I’m just really interested in this conference and what they’re talking about, but normally I’m just like, I write, and I like to bowl a lot and eat, kind of spicy food, I don’t know.

It’s kind of a weird question, no one has ever really asked that at a conference? What do you like to do for fun?

Rachel-Marie: I like to ride horses and I like to take photos. Hey, do you know anybody that likes to have pictures taken of their kids?

Ramit Sethi: Whoa, whoa, whoa—what! What do you mean?

Rachel-Marie: So, I like to take photos and I’m a professional – I’m a photographer on the side, and I have a day job and all that kind of stuff, but I’m looking for some people that might like to have some photos taken of their kids.

Ramit Sethi: Ah! Let’s stop here. Great, thank you for doing that, you did a great job. Okay, put yourself in my shoes. What do you think I just thought?

Rachel-Marie: This is coming out of left field.

Ramit Sethi: Yes, coming out of left and you sounded like, kind of, creepy. In fact if you were a dude you would definitely be a creep. Okay, luckily for you, you are a woman, so women can’t really be creepy. So well, 99 percent of them cannot. So you’ve got that going for you, but here is the deal, you, in that example were one of those people who just to a conference, and is like one of those leeches, just trying to get business from people. Like, really – if you were a guy, it would be like a guy who goes to a bar and just hits on anything that moves. And as soon as he gets a negative response he just goes to the next girl. And that’s like – girls and guys are really smart, they pick up on that. Did you pick up on how I didn’t like that?

Rachel-Marie: Yes, I did.

Ramit Sethi: So you have to lay a foundation, when I go up to someone, let’s say I go up to a girl, I love using these examples because picking up a guy or a girl is like so applicable to everything. I don’t just. I’m not just like: “Hey, I’m Ramit, come over to my house right now.” That’s so weird. So engage them, talk to them, and let’s take your example. I liked your example, what I might do something like this: I might say, Hi… First of all, do you actually ask people what they like to do for fun?

Rachel-Marie: That’s actually a question I ask a lot of people.

Ramit Sethi: And how is the response?

Rachel-Marie: You get people that don’t have anything that they classify as fun that they do, and then you get some people who just really get into talking about their passions.

Ramit Sethi: Nice, okay. So that’s pretty interesting. And do you actually ever ask people: “Hey, do you know anyone who would want pictures taken of their kids?

Rachel-Marie: Probably people that are closer to me, not necessarily people that I actually just met.

Ramit Sethi: Right, what I might do is something a little bit more low-key. Because remember – honestly your best pitching is not going to happen at an in-person event, where you’re just cold pitching, it’s just not going to happen. Alright, and you have a big downside risk which is seeming really sleazy, and very low upside potential, which is, like, getting a client. It’s just not going to happen when you’re cold emailing people – I mean cold-meeting people in person. What I might do is like, tell them a little bit about yourself what you like to do—briefly, nobody really cares about you anyway. And then—they don’t care about me either—and then engage them, ask them a lot of stuff, because no one ever really ask people what they do. And no one ever really listens. They just talk about themselves. So engage them, listen, and after a while, you say: Well you know, if you happen to know… Actually what you want to do is maybe like tell a story: Actually it was like really surprising, last week I got, like, my tenth client – or I got my first client with twins, and that was, like, incredible. Normally I deal with children like blah-blah-blah, but now I dealt with twins, it was such a different experience. I had to think how to position them, I had to figure out to make each other cry. So it was really surprising.

Then they’re like: Oh, yeah. They’re like into the story, they’re like offering feedback, it’s natural, it’s not weird. And then at the end, you know, natural like, “Yeah if you know anyone who is looking for photography for their children, let me know. But otherwise, I’ll keep my eye out for any bowling tips I learn and I’ll let you know. Friendly, right?

Rachel-Marie: Yes, I get that.

Ramit Sethi: Super-friendly, so that is answer number one to your question, which is don’t come off too sleazy and strong. Number two let’s talk about your confidence issue. If I say: Hey, Rachel, what do you do?

Rachel-Marie: So I would say that I’ve got a corporate day job where I work in financial reporting and go to meetings.

Ramit Sethi: Be real: Hey Rachel, what do you do?

Rachel-Marie: I’m a business analyst for a Fortune-100 company.

Ramit Sethi: That’s it?

Rachel-Marie: If they’re in a corporate world, a lot. I typically in my off hours stuff – I just try to forget that little piece of my life.

Ramit Sethi: Okay, here might be a different response that might help: “Actually during the day I’m a business analyst for a Fortune-100 company but I actually, after work I’ve started to do this pretty interesting thing, I’m actually starting to actually take photographs of children and I’m trying to learn how to turn it into a business, so it’s been really interesting as I take this passion I may have had for the last 15 years, and now I’m actually trying to grow it and help take pictures of children, so that’s what I’ve been working on recently.” Now if you’re really passionate about it when you say it, guess what, people are drawn to passion, because a lot of people don’t have it. The way you just said that made me want to kill myself. I almost just hung up the phone just now.

Rachel-Marie: [Laughs]

Ramit Sethi: You know it and I know it, I could tell from your voice and everyone else could too, so we know you’re not passionate about that, so guess what, acknowledge that and move on, talk about what you are passionate about, that’s what people really care about anyway. Does that make sense?

Rachel-Marie: Yes, it does.

Ramit Sethi: Does that answer your question about confidence?

Rachel-Marie: It does.

Ramit Sethi: Anything else I can help you with?

Rachel-Marie: Not at the moment.

Ramit Sethi: Alright. Here is what I want for next week, I want you to go and I want you to introduce yourself to five people and I want you to say it with confidence. Before you do this I want you to practice it, okay. Practice how you’re going to introduce yourself. And maybe even sketch out the conversation. I’ve done this before, myself. If it’s a really important conversation you can actually bullet point it and sketch it out, how you think it will go. Trust me, that really helps, you have little arrows in your quiver, you’re ready to go. You don’t have to use all that stuff, but you’ll have it. And I’ve always called it tools in the tool box. Come back to us next week and let us know about these five conversations and how they went, and did they improve your confidence or not. Will you do that?

Rachel-Marie: Yeah, I can do that.

The good news is that, a few months later, Rachel has now found another job, lost 20lbs, moved to her dream location (Nashville), and is earning hundreds / month on the side. In fact, I hired her.

What now?

Understanding the psychology of persuasion is critical because people are not rational. Yes, we “should” be out there meeting people and staying fit and managing our money, but we’re not. Why not? How can we understand our limitations and work around them?

Persuasion is also critical to ethically influencing other people. I’ll write more about ethical guidelines in the coming weeks, but you can certainly change people’s behaviors for the better if you always aim to persuade people to do what they already want to do.

I’ve only scratched the surface of getting inside people’s heads. It is HARD — astonishingly hard. I often spend HOURS drafting one email.

But once it’s done, it usually works. And I achieve disproportionate results from it. Like David, my student, who used my DIFT Technique to quit his job, increase his earnings 15% (working only 7 months/year), and get tens of thousands of dollars on a new deal. It wasn’t easy. But his rewards are now disproportionately higher than even the amount of time he put in.

Do you know your earning potential?

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  1. avatar

    Well done, bp! Love the scripts you tested and great to see what worked.

    And, well done Jonah! For getting around your negative, worst case senarios!

    It is great to see how getting over our fear of failure and into a “testing” mode makes so much difference to our behaviors and gets results.

  2. avatar

    That’s a hilarious conversation. (I didn’t actually listen to the clip; I read the transcript). But I now have an idea of what I could say when someone ask me that awkward “What do you do?” question– I probably find the question awkward because I don’t particularly enjoy my day job.

    On another note, completely unrelated– I subscribe to your blog via RSS and I also get the newsletter. I’ll occasionally visit the blog (usually via the RSS link) if there’s a clip of some sort that I can’t click on via my RSS reader, or if I want to leave a comment. Once I’m on the blog, however, your newsletter sign-up thing will pop up about a minute after I’ve already scrolled down the page. I click “no, thanks.” (since I’m already subscribed anyway!) and the page refreshes itself, and I find that I have to scroll back down the page again. I’m pretty sure that there’s a CSS or JQuery script that you can use to fixate the sign-up on the right column or something. It would probably be less annoying (for lack of a better word), and I’ll not have to scroll down your long blog posts (which are nice!) more than once. Just a suggestion. 😉

  3. avatar
    Danny Rosenhaus

    Saying people want to help is quite true! In fact, when people get angry at others for not minding their own business and asking too many questions or anything like that, I bet most of the time it is just because the other person wants to help and is preparing to help if asked. The anger comes from the fact they weren’t asked to help. But the point remains, people want to help you and if you can create the right environment before you pop the question, you only increase your chances.

  4. avatar
    Jessica H.

    bp: right on!

    That is all. 🙂

  5. avatar

    $250 or 15 minutes on the phone with you? Your time is worth $1000/hour? Give BP some more time.

  6. avatar
    Ramit Sethi

    I actually charge more than that Steven

  7. avatar
    John U

    I agree in the case study on confidence. People love talking about themselves. If you allow them to talk, they feel the sense of importance and you care which creates a quick relationship in a matter of minutes.
    Also I recently met someone a customer who came into the bank. She talked about her web designing business and express how exciting her field is and how I always wanted to learn. She asked me what do I do? I told her I am a personal banker but I am very passionate in public speaking and giving motivational speeches. Her face filled with excited and offer to help me with my blog and give advice with web designing and tips to earn profit off my blog.

  8. avatar
    Alex Shalman

    Hi Ramit,

    I tried to listen to the audio but it’s cut off short (don’t know if that matters to you). I just read the transcript instead.

    I like your point about ‘people want to help you.’ I have consistently been networking with dentists that are at the top of their game, making 7 figures per year while being people of awesome character, having foundations and taking pro-bonos, balancing family time.

    To me part of being successful is having the desire to give back of your time and knowledge, regardless of how much you have. People that are successful respond, they like to, they like to make time (if possible) to at least get you on the right path.

    They realize that nobody, including them, got to where they are without someone’s help. Sure, they put in the blood, sweat, and tears, but someone was there at some point to give a hand, point them in the right direction, or just give them some words of encouragement.

    Your book just arrived, if I learn nothing else, at least I’ll walk around barefoot more and dig out a pink polo from college 😉

  9. avatar

    Well done BP!!!

    While studyding towards an electronics related qualification many years ago one of our tutors gave us a tip which I have forgotten about until reading BP’s story.

    We were continuously given projects and to make a real impression you had to use quite sophisticated IC’s (integrated Circuits) that was quite expensive to buy or just plain difficult to get a hold of for most students.

    Most companies would however make an effort to get some samples, sometimes free of charge if you persuaded them you were working on a project (just not mentioning student) and if successful would possibly by many of the product.

    And as many viable products originate from tertiary institution projects and programs this was of course true but with a subtle different pitch which made a huge difference.

  10. avatar
    Andy Nelson


    Just subscribed to your site less than two months ago and am loving every detail of it! And I’ve used your Automating Your Finances tip sheet off The 4-Hour Workweek blog with tremendous success in those short 2 months, so thank you! I’ve also helped two of my friends get started on automating their finances with your blog – that’s how simple your system is! Just gotta follow it, eh?

    I’ve had a confidence issue with approaching people with my business and your transcript with Rachael-Marie provided me with some valuable insight in how to guide a conversation in a manner that’s informative and creates a bond rather than just be a typical run-of-the-mill conference attendee trying to sell you their same old services, just like everyone else. Great way to stand out and be memorable in the other person’s view!

    Also, I appreciate you putting in a written transcript along with the audio clip. The reason for this is I have a hearing loss and it makes listening to audio clips difficult. So, thank you for doing that and I will look forward to more to come!

  11. avatar

    I really like how you talk about ethically persuading people. I’m pursuing my medical degree, and one big problem doctors (and other health professionals, and other people looking out for one another) have is getting their patients to follow through with their treatment plans. Getting patients to reveal enough information so that you can treat them successfully can also be tricky – given social norms, it’s hardly surprising.

    Whenever we have mock patient encounters, I try to keep your advice in mind. I’ve found that I do best when I really try to get into the patient’s mind and when I de-escalate any tense situations… it is so difficult, but oh so important! Seeing the other individual’s point of view for a moment is such a powerful tool.

  12. avatar

    Hey Ramit,

    I really enjoy the fact that you’ve applied conversational techniques taught by PUAs, to business and success.

    I also love the case studies for mental scenario planning that you’ve put up.

    Last May, while still in uni, I used the exact same technique – focussing deeply on trying to understand your target – to get myself invited to an exclusive dinner with NOBEL LAUREATE F W de Klerk (I had to convince the uni’s Director of Media Relations).

    At the dinner I then used the same technique to obtain Mr. de Klerk’s contact information (from de Klerk himself).

    Then I CRASHED and BURNED (as the say), by sending an email that showed very poor understanding of my target.

    THEN by changing my mental scenario I reworked my email and ACTUALLY got a response from Former President de Klerk himself.

    Granted, I didn’t achieve this because of your challenge, and Granted it’s a little bit off base in that I only wanted to ask Mr. de Klerk about his pre-dinner lecture, but nevertheless using the techniques, which you describe (better than I ever could), I managed to contact this man.

    It might be something your readers would find interesting – I’ve posted both the BEFORE re-mapping and AFTER re-mapping emails I sent to him, and his response, on my blog (which I believe my comment is in someway linked to).


    Scans of the emails are also available in the Flickr stream I link to at the end of the post.

    Although it’s slightly off the mark, I hope that some people may be able to profit from seeing the emails in the flesh.



  13. avatar

    Just to clarify, the email sign up is always for the same mailing list, right? I always enter my info in there when I’m interested, but I only need to do this once, right? Just want to make sure you don’t have 100 different mailing lists that I’m missing out on.

  14. avatar

    Maybe Rachel could try testing her introduction “taking pictures of children” vs “children photography” . When she said I like taking photos of children, a red flag went up and I’m not even a mom lol.

    @Ramit, if we’re on the list already will we get the lesson or do we have to sign-up here again?

  15. avatar
    zachary wertz

    I saw a good book at Borders the other day called Emotional Intelligence 2.0. It’s a good book I liked it myself. It’s a simple book on how to improve your EI.

    I also find that reading as many books on one subject is a good idea. I can see the similarities and one book’s writing style might not match my reading style it might be loaded with too much information and that I am not looking for. So I can just read the sidebars and pick up quick tips and information without having to read the whole book which would take a long time.

    Some books have great material some just are elaborate explanations. Some are hard to understand some are easier.

    I sign up on the email list every time to check for new material.


  16. avatar
    Sunday Must Read – Weekly Roundup 4, 2011 « Alex Dumitru / Sandossu

    […] really don’t know what to say about this post. Ramit Sethi has some really mind-blowing posts. I recommend you to subscribe to his […]

  17. avatar

    WOW, what provoking insight. Love the stories and scripts.

    PS: Nonverbal communication such as body language can be insightful too.

  18. avatar

    Interesting video by Dave N. He sounds like someone my company would like to hire. Does he have a website for his freelance company?

  19. avatar
    David Norcott

    Hi Todd,

    My website is pretty bare-bones ( My LinkedIn page has a bit more info ( Following Ramit’s advice, I haven’t put much time into my website because it doesn’t bring in any business. Word of mouth is most effective for me, so I spend my time meeting people. With that said, drop me a line and let’s talk!